Viet Thanh Nguyen on ‘The Dedicated’ at Competition of Books
Viet Thanh Nguyen had no intention of writing a sequel to The Sympathizer, his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a Franco-Vietnamese undercover agent who worked for communist forces during the Vietnam War. But when he was done, he found that he wasn’t done researching “the misadventures” of his complicated protagonist.
“He lives at the end of the book and has learned some lessons, but I thought he didn’t understand everything that happened to him or Vietnam or this revolution to which he was committed, and I wanted to carry on his story to find out what happens to him and what he thinks, ”said Nguyen on Sunday, explaining the impetus for his upcoming book“ The Committed ”.
Another nice thing? It was filmed in Paris in 1982, which required some travel. “It also gave me the opportunity to spend more time in Paris and quote a little there,” he said.
During Sunday’s virtual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Nguyen and his 7-year-old son Ellison, along with Caldecott medalist Thi Bui and her 13-year-old son Hien Bui-Stafford, took part in a reading and discussion “Chicken of the Sea” , moderated by Sumun L. Pendakur of the USC Race and Equity Center. The children’s book was conceived in the mind of then 5-year-old Ellison and illustrated by Bui and her son. In a one-on-one conversation after the panel in March, Nguyen spoke about “The Committed”. Teaching and writing during the pandemic; and what’s next for him.
When asked what readers can expect from the main character of “The Sympathizer” in the sequel, Nguyen said, “More of the same … In” The Committed, “he continues to make bad choices in his life.” There is a lot of “crime and violence and drugs”, but also commitment to race, colonialism and pluralism – tensions that will still haunt France in 2020 today.
Viet Thanh Nguyen in the back yard of his home in Pasadena.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
In the course of the conversation, Nguyen expanded the “narrative abundance” – a term he coined to discuss the representation of cultures in fiction. “If you come from a so-called minority, say Asian-Americans, you live in a state of narrative scarcity: almost none of the stories are about you. So when a story comes up about you or someone like you, you put tremendous weight on that story. “
Narrative scarcity remains a reality for non-white Americans, said Nguyen, because they don’t control the economy. “If blacks and other colored people and other minorities don’t control or don’t control the means of production, they really don’t control their stories. They are subject to the whims and graces of the people who are more powerful of them – the producers and the owners – who can determine what kinds of stories are told. “It’s a particularly big problem in Hollywood,” he said.
But there is a medium in which Nguyen sees the possibility of narrative abundance for Asian-American stories: literature. “Part of the reason we see this compared to the movie world is that it’s cheap to write,” he said. “All you need to write is your own time and your own life.”
Nguyen plans to continue adding to this abundance. He is working on a short non-fiction book that contains partly memoirs and partly essays on race, immigration and decolonization. He is also in the early stages of the third and final installment of the Sympathizer trilogy, which “will take us back to the 1980s in Southern California”.
Check out the full Festival of Books panel below with Viet and Ellison Nguyen, Thi and Hien Bui-Stafford, and Pendakur.